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Friendly Suggestive Criticisms on the
Last Southern Baptist Convention

W. A. Jarrell
Western Recorder, 1917
      With those who are everlastingly finding fault with the Southern Baptist Convention I have never sympathized. I believe so fully in its work that, attending its last New Orlean meeting, to save money to contribute to it, I rode all night in a day car rather than pay for the rest of a sleeper.

      The last meeting had many highly praiseworthy features. Since, in the papers, brethren have well mentioned some of these. But, as nothing worse can befall any individual or body of people than to assume or imagine for him, her or its perfection or faultlessness, in love to all, as a very imperfect member of that body, I beg to offer the following criticisms for its better effectuality in its work. Before offering them, let me add: The first time I ever attended that convention was in 1870, in Louisville. That was in the days of the sainted Poindexter, Fuller, Jeter, Lansing Burrough's father, Boyce, Broadus, Graves, etc., God's grace made giants.

      1. The New Orleans Convention lacked the dignity, the devotional seriousness, the spiritual power of the Louisville Convention.

      2. "While "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men," there was in the New Orleans Convention a painful, thoughtless levity. Readiness, yea, a seeming watchfulness and eagerness on the part of many for something to laugh at; so bad that valuable time was lost in waiting for such trifling with the great object and the time of the Convention to end. This, I am sure, Jesus would not have recommended.

      3. In line with this levity was time lost by many applauses; in many cases, even, if not against the adopted rules of the Convention, applauses at nothing that was so unusually marked as to call for applause.

      4. Disregard, not only for the adopted rule against applause, but of the President and Vice Presidents of the Convention. In vain did they protest against this palpable violation of the rule. With no reflection on any presiding officers, I do not hesitate to say: Had I been presiding, I would have told the law violators, you must obey the rule of the Convention against applause or get you another presiding officer for the Convention. Unless this spirit it changed, I look for some one, at the next Convention, to attempt to effect the repeal of the rule against applause.

      5. There was not the becoming considerateness and the regard for a brother's rights and feelings in the Convention, that the law of Christ requires. If the law of brotherly love means anything it means that it governs Christians everywhere. But the spirit of "beat," of vaunting triumphant over each other, in some cases, was painfully apparent in the Convention, reminding one of a political convention. Instances: Applause of one party at out-voting the other; however meritorious a motion, to deprive a brother of his rights to show its merits, and the Convention of the right to hear why it ought to vote for or against the motion, on its being offered, to move to table it. As much as does any one else, I approve of the motion to table when it is called for, but not of such uses of it. The attempt to meet a brother's real argument by a witticism, to laugh him out. Especially, if he was not a "leader" in the Convention. I have in mind one especially painful case of this a case in which the brother a layman who was rather a poor speaker finally got his matter considered by the Convention in spite of attempts to get him off the floor of the Convention and to laugh him out by a witticism. In his logic Hedge especially condemns, as utterly inexcusable, such resorts to defeat an opponent. A most painful case, growing out of the spirit of levity and of disregard for the law of brotherly love, was the attempt to howl down one of the most respected pastors of the South, one of the most scholarly and able men we have, taking much of the Convention time in trying to intimidate and get him the floor even to the extent of calling or intimating him as a "traitor." Now, as to the matter, I am far from agreeing with that brother; but he had his rights there, and Baptists boasted freedom, as well as Christian love, the dignity of the Convention and the example and the spirit Christianity especially forbade any thing of that kind, especially in great stronghold of Romanism in South. May such a thing never again occur in our great and loved Convention.

      6. There was not the necessary spiritual uplifting that results from informal singing of the whole Convention especially of the old songs. A limited amount of solos, ect., of new, well-selected songs, have their place. But, in moving an audience, especially a great Convention, and in lifting it up into the Christ life, they can bear no comparison with the old, songs, songs that great trials and spiritual battles have tested songs that have survived the great sifting tests and that have thus been divinely given us as a great spiritual heritage.

      7. Dr. Riley has already called attention to the negro churches of Orleans not being supplied preachers by the Convention the day that it was in New Orleans. That the Lord gave a great opportunity to do incalcuable good in the Convention supplying the negro pulpits that day an opportunity lost forever beyond question. That this seriously grievous record may never again be repeated in the history of our great Convention, can be but the prayer of every true Christian soul, to whose attention the matter is called.

      8. With, possibly, an exception or two, only a few at most, the members of the Convention, while at New Orleans, made no effort personally to lead any poor sinner to Christ. Nearly every sinner whose duties kept him and her at the foot of the stairs, where the Convention passed in and out of the hall several times each day of the Convention, told me that none of the members, as late as Saturday of the convention, had said a word to him or her about the salvation of the soul. Yet, on other matters, hundreds of the members had spoken to them. The presumption is that this was true of the whole history of nearly all the members, going to the Convention, everywhere while there, and returning. Men and women of God, commissioned by Him, "in season and out of season," to warn and invite sinners, letting such opportunities to win lost souls to Christ pass unimproved forever, especially in such a wicked city as New Orleans! Meet, make great speeches, pray and plan to save sinners away off and spend nearly a week in a great and wicked city without trying to save sinners "right under their noses"! Can it be possible that the members thus reflect their lives at home?

      9. The manifest approval of a statement from an eloquent, most estimable brother, that, during the war, Home Missions must be preferred to Foreign Missions in our support was, to say the least, very deplorable.

      Considering that Home Missions and local church work must have the reflex influence of Foreign Missions to prosper; that but few in the Home Field have not heard the gospel and that it is in the reach of all or nearly all the others; that comparatively nearly all the money, the prayers and the missionaries are on the Home Field; that Tom Watson and the Hardshells unite against Foreign Missions, Foreign Missions need especial emphasis. Of course, war conditions now and to come, call for such creased zeal in Home Missions as hardly dreamed by our people.

      10. The time of the Convention was too little for its work; and very important business left to be done when most of the Convention had gone home. Possibly, some Convention may do some most deplorable business, by the few who remain till its close, that the wisdom, etc., of whole Convention would have averted. This is a weakness of many Baptist Associations. The Convention ought to meet Thursday or Friday, so as to keep itself together over Sunday, to complete the business by about middle of next week, and add another day to its time. This would do its business and enable the members to get home for the next Sabbath. As it is, holding the Convention together over Sunday for but about four hours' Monday business will not probably ever get the great numbers absenting themselves to remain to the close of the Convention.

      11. Last, but not least, is the comparatively little attention given by the Convention to the devotional hour, to prepare for the work of the Convention. This is true of many other religious meetings. Never till Christian people sufficiently appreciate the help and importance of prayer will they find time to emphasize communion prayer by attending the devotional part of the meetings as fully as the business part. Yet a very large part of the Convention was not usually present at the opening, devotion part of the Convention; while no small part of it, to the disturbance of the worshippers, came in, hunted seats, after the opening.

      Pardon these plain words by a friend to the Convention.

Dallas, Texas.

[From Western Recorder,July 19, 1917. Document provided by Ben Stratton, Farmington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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